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Energy and Environment

Clean Fossil Energy About

Starting around 2010, the shift in unconventional oil and gas production transformed the national and global energy markets, increasing the potential for R&D to address key questions and challenges with sustained hydrocarbon production and appropriate use. In light of these opportunities and the changing energy landscape, our work in Clean Fossil Energy serves government and industrial clients involved in all facets of fossil hydrocarbon resource exploration, production, transportation, conversion and end use.

Our research and development priorities are:

We deliver scientific understanding, tools, technologies, and field deployment expertise to safely design and implement (a) permanent geologic storage of CO2, and (b) safe and economical recovery of oil and gas resources from unconventional environments, such as deepwater and the arctic, both onshore and offshore. Our distinguishing capabilities include:

  • Subsurface Science
  • Modeling and Simulation; Uncertainty Quantification; Risk Assessment
  • Subsurface Characterization; Process Monitoring; Process Control
  • Multi-Scale (lab to field) Testing and Simulation

Carbon Sequestration (storage)

small grains of basalt

PNNL addresses carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. We are studying basalt formations to determine if they will be a safe and permanent storage site for carbon dioxide. This photo shows small grains of basalt that have been mounted in epoxy.

Storing CO2 underground, called carbon sequestration, is one of several tools to mitigate global climate change. At PNNL, we are working on ways to prove carbon sequestration is safe and effective, with specialized research into the chemical reactions between carbon dioxide, other harmful gases, and underground rock formations. We use testing and modeling tools to translate molecular-level understanding to field-scale projects. Our researchers have developed a unique data management and simulation tool that will help scientists and engineers from around the world share research findings and create computer models of possible reactions between carbon dioxide and rock formations. This tool also supports regulatory permitting of new geologic sequestration sites and helps monitor reservoir performance.

To learn more about work in this area, see the Energy Processes and Materials website and the Earth Systems Science website.

Recovery of Oil and Gas

Our scientists and engineers provide thought leadership and new strategies for recovering unconventional oil, gas, and hydrates from both onshore and offshore in deepwater and artic environments. By developing and demonstrating advanced fossil fuel recovery practices, we are helping to assure environmental sustainability. Learn more about our research in this area on the STOMP-CO2 website.

We deliver advanced materials, catalysts, transformational processes, and integrated systems to cost effectively capture or separate GHG emissions, and efficiently convert fossil hydrocarbons to electricity, fuels, or chemicals. Our distinguishing capabilities include:

  • Chemistry, Materials Science
  • Catalysis and Reaction Engineering (including the Institute for Integrated Catalysis)
  • Molecular Dynamics; Computational Fluid Dynamics; and Process Simulation
  • Process Scale-up and Testing; Techno-economic Analysis

Carbon Capture

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas produced by human beings and also one of the biggest contributors to global climate change. At PNNL, we are working to separate and capture carbon dioxide and other harmful gases affordably and effectively, and to speed the advancement of the technologies most worthy of commercialization.

Our Emissions Capture Center (ECC) brings together PNNL laboratories, equipment, staff expertise, and processes to develop new technologies that can be scaled up, tested, and commercially deployed. The ECC provides a disciplined evaluation of each technology as it moves through the stages of development, allowing us to rapidly screen and mature the best candidate technologies.

An example of one new material that has advanced to testing is:

  • CO2-Binding Organic Liquids (CO2BOLS, pronounced co-balls), a robust and re-usable "all-in-one" solvent system for scrubbing carbon dioxide—and other acid gases—from the flue gases of coal-burning power plants. CO2BOLS uses much less energy than current methods for carbon capture and captures nearly 100 percent of acid gases released during energy production.

Fuel Cells

A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by a chemical reaction. Solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) are a type of fuel cell that produces electricity directly through a chemical reaction with hydrocarbons. Fuel cells offer a cleaner, more efficient alternative to burning fossil fuels and are being scaled-up for applications in stationary power generation. PNNL leads the Core Technology Program for the U.S. Department of Energy's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) where we are developing advanced materials that provide better fuel cell performance and affordability to encourage the widespread use of fuel cells. We also integrate fuel cells into sophisticated power systems for a variety of applications. Additionally, we developed a system that has been demonstrated by the U.S. Navy for unmanned, underwater vehicles.

Conversion to Liquid

Converting coal directly to fuel, instead of burning it, addresses two issues at once: reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We are developing more efficient ways to convert coal and biomass (plant materials) directly to liquid fuels rather than burning coal. We also are creating ways to convert coal to a synthetic gas that burns more cleanly than coal. The electricity you use to power your household appliances and heat your home may someday be generated by non-polluting chemical conversion facilities rather than coal-burning power plants.

For more details, see our capabilities in the following areas:

Energy and Environment

Core Research Areas